Horse Soldier Bourbon plans to build a world-class distillery experience in Somerset-Pulaski County on the grounds of the former Waitsboro Hills Golf Course — a 227-acre expanse overlooking Lake Cumberland. The $200-million project will make the community a southern anchor of the Bourbon Trail tour
Horse Soldier President and CEO John Koko said he is grateful for this partnership, one that will allow a collection of experiences centered around bourbon and community spirit.
“We are every person you’ve ever known in your family,” Koko said. “We’re average guys. It was just our turn to do something. And we are proud to be doing it in a place where our story so naturally fits. Horse Soldier Farms will make this already outstanding community stronger and better, with the values its people have always had — values that are also important to us. We are honored to come home, to make our dreams a reality in Somerset.”
Reality for Koko and his team was much different on this day 20 years ago. On Oct. 19, 2001, weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a hand-selected detachment of 12 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group entered Afghanistan on horseback. Later named the “Horse Soldiers,” their clandestine mission marked the first time U.S. troops rode to war on horseback since World War II. The movie 12 Strong is based on their story.
Upon retiring from the military, this band of brothers traveled the world and discovered a passion for making bourbon. From that experience, they determined their legacy would be to create a product that infuses patriotism with one of Kentucky’s signature industries. Coming home to make bourbon in Kentucky, where their military story began training on the banks of the Cumberland River, would be the next chapter.
Enter Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, who made bringing a bourbon experience to the community one of his top priorities upon being elected in 2018. After hearing a podcast featuring members of the Horse Soldier Bourbon team, he was inspired by their story and began recruitment efforts in partnership with the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA). In just one short year with several visits between the two teams, Horse Soldier announced it would build a distillery in Somerset.
“Horse Soldier Farms has, from the beginning, been a project that challenges people to believe anything is possible,” Keck said. “That has been a key part of my vision for this community and it’s what makes this partnership so special. I’m grateful the Horse Soldier team has been willing to dream big with us. As these two stories intertwine, as we forge our path to becoming a Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experience, we will continue to build excitement and a more enduring legacy for Somerset.”
The team’s love of country and craft is woven throughout the Horse Soldier Farms project, which will bring 400-plus jobs to Somerset-Pulaski County’s already robust tourism industry. Renderings show a sustainable distillery inspired by the 12 Horse Soldiers: Visitors will discover 12 fermentation vats in perfect formation around the column still created with metal from the Statue of Liberty. A recessed water feature and stillhouse pay homage to the Two Towers in New York City. And the water garden includes a replica of the America’s Response Monument located at Ground Zero, a statue that commemorates the Horse Soldiers’ mission.
The grounds also include a village that offers both spirits- and non-spirits-based activities. Events, festivals and concerts will fill the family-friendly venue’s schedule while shops, community rooms, a chapel and event center, and health and wellness opportunities will be available to residents, visitors and veterans. Horse Soldier Farms will also include a luxury lodge, cabins and serve as a premier culinary destination.
Horse Soldier Bourbon assembled a design team that offers collective experience in projects across the globe. Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), an international architectural practice based in London, has prior distillery experience designing the world-renowned Macallan Distillery in Scotland. Other notable projects include 3 World Trade Center in New York City and the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. The design team’s portfolio also includes The Jameson and Absolut brand-homes and guest experiences in Europe, along with construction expertise with Kentucky distilleries Woodford Reserve, Bulleit Bourbon, Angel’s Envy and Wild Turkey.
Horse Soldier Bourbon is a member of the Foley Family of Wines (FFW) portfolio. FFW President Shawn Schiffer said Horse Soldier’s authenticity shines through its story and the quality of its product, making it unlike any other bourbon brand in the industry.
“Horse Soldier Bourbon has solidified its place in American history and on shelves across the country through its civic contributions and its award-winning craft, both of which are equally impressive,” Schiffer said. “We have no doubt Horse Soldier Farms and the Somerset community will be a can’t miss stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour, and we couldn’t be more proud to support this company as a top brand in the Foley Family brand portfolio.”
“I come here with my heart open, believing that Horse Soldier Farms, our forever home, is going to be even more historic than the things we have done in our lives prior to this moment,” Koko said. “This is our journey; this is Somerset’s journey. And it’s not over. We look forward to writing the chapters that lie ahead with the people of this community.”